Part 3 of Our Interview with Bruce Kuklick: Booze, Rowdy Fans, and the Phils’ Roman Colosseum

Had a chance to sit down with local author and Penn prof Bruce Kuklick recently and ask him about his excellent book, To Every Thing a Season. To read Part One of that Interview, where Bruce talks about who was better the 1929 A’s or 2011 Phillies, click here. To read Part Two, where he talks about Connie Mack and the best and worst things about Shibe Park, click here. Today we present part 3, where Bruce talks about why Connie Mack couldn’t serve beer at the ballpark, when Philly fans first got their reputation as being rowdy, and how Penn’s former President prevented Citizen’s Bank Park from being built downtown.

JGT: One thing I found interesting about the book was Mack’s fight to serve alcohol at the ballpark. And that was something that went on for decades. And he never got it done. They wouldn’t let them serve beer in the ballpark until after the A’s left town. Why was their so much pushback to serving beer in ballparks?

KUKLICK: Well first of all, you’ve got to understand, it’s Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania is not a dry state, but it’s one in which there are enough rural Protestant Republicans who really want to control drinking to the extent that they can. And this has been true long before the 20th century and it has nothing to do with sports per se.

Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. What do they represent? They represent bad things to a lot of these people. Because they’re urban, there’s a lot more liquor, women, and things like that. And another thing, there are a lot more Catholics in the big cities in comparison to the rest of the state. Mack is a Catholic. And so when he starts agitating for liquor at the ballpark, this represents to the powers-that-be something that is off-color, it’s vulgar, it’s nasty.

JGT: So is Mack fighting more the state or the city?

KUKLICK: He’s fighting the state. There’s a whole series of blue laws which not only control drinking but control your behavior on a Sunday. You know what they say today. They say today, “You’ve got Pittsburgh and you’ve got Philadelphia, and in between you’ve got Alabama.”

I don’t think that Mack saw this as a Catholic drinking issue, which a lot of people have accused him of. He saw it as a revenue stream. And (when it came to drinking laws) from the 1930s to 1970s (They allowed sales of beer in the ballpark starting in 1961, but no beer on Sundays until 1972) it was always politicians in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia against the rest of the state, and the politicians in the big cites get their biggest support from professional sports teams.

JGT: So other ballparks in the country were serving beer well before Shibe?

KUKLICK: Yeah. I don’t know what the exact history of the other ballparks is, but Philadelphia was particularly noted for its dryness. One of the things I didn’t put in the book is that you have so much smuggling of beer into the ballpark. Which is one reason why a place like Kilroy’s (The bar located behind right field where Phillies relief pitchers sometimes snuck into to grab a drink during games.) does so well, because people just grabbed beer there and put it in a bag. So there was a lot of technically illegal beer drinking. Which I think in football contributed to a lot of this rowdy behavior. There’s this history of people smuggling stuff into the parks.

JGT: Speaking of rowdy behavior, Philly fans have a reputation of rowdyism. Does that go back to the Shibe Park days?

KUKLICK: Yeah. Well it first starts in the first decade of the 20th century when the A’s are battling the Detroit Tigers and Ty Cobb (“Sliding” into home, right). And Philadelphia fans hate Cobb. And I find out that they send a death threat to him. And at one point he’s riding on a subway to get to the park and fans come and topple over this subway and he runs scared and runs out. Now, I don’t know that that’s the beginning, but that’s the earliest time I could trace it. They say that today this (CBP) is the only stadium where the crowd can really rattle an opposing pitcher because the fans get so boisterous and angry. There’s a tradition of it here, it goes back over 100 years. Why we got it? I don’t know.

JGT: A guy I interviewed a few weeks ago who was a fan of the A’s in the 20s said that Al Simmons, one of the stars of that team, couldn’t catch a break from the fans. Then you had Del Ennis in the 50s…

KUKLICK: And then you had it with Mike Schmidt.

JGT: So this strange phenomenon of Philadelphia fans beating up on their own is nothing new.

KUKLICK: There’s a story of one guy, Gus Zernial, who was a slugger kind of like Ennis but he didn’t have that long of a career in Philadelphia (note: he played here from 1951-1954). He fell and broke his leg trying to catch a fly ball, and they all cheered when he broke his leg. They’re out for blood.

JGT: Getting back to the ballpark. Looking at what’s happened in the neighborhoods surrounding Wrigley and Fenway since the teams decided to stay, and how those neighborhoods have come back up, had they decided to rehab Shibe instead of tear it down, do you think that neighborhood would be different today?

KUKLICK: I absolutely do. My wife and I went on vacation one time to Club Med, and we were talking to some people, and we said, “Where are you from?” and this guy said “Wrigleyville.” He didn’t say Chicago. And we knew exactly where he was talking about. That ballpark is known all over the Western World. And every once in a while, I think, “Gee if they had only had the foresight.” But basically that area went through a really terrible period. It’s now come up considerably on its own. It’s a lot less nasty and dangerous than it was.

But Carpenter (The Phillies owner at the time) was just not interested.  He didn’t think in those terms at all.

JGT: Like the guys in Pittsburgh and Cincinnati, he thought, “I can save a fortune by not having to grow grass.”

KUKLICK: When I teach Vietnam, I’ll say, “Those ballparks that they are now tearing down (Riverfront, The Vet, Three Rivers, etc.), they were all built during that period, and it’s kind of our Roman period. The United States thinks it’s going to conquer the world. And we have these ballparks that look like Roman Colosseums.”  So Carpenter isn’t alone.

JGT: So now they’re at Citizen’s bank. Not in a neighborhood. Are you a fan of Citizen’s Bank?

KUKLICK: Oh yeah. I’m not overwhelmed by it, but I do like going there. I’d like it a lot better if it were in the city. I was one of the people who, well, I’ll tell you this story. The previous President at Penn was a woman named Judy Ronin, who had no sense of baseball or sports at all. And then there were plans to put a stadium on stilts next to the Walnut Street Bridge, so that a home run would go into the river. They had all of these terrific downtown urban plans, and she said, “I don’t want those baseball drunks pissing in my University.” And she vetoed it. I wanted it right there.

You know, Philadelphians have never wanted to build their ballparks right in the middle of the city. When they built Shibe, it was the countryside. I think you have to have more of an urban mindset more so than these planners have had in Philly.

 



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Connect with Facebook

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>